Scientific Inquiry for Multiple Traditions Research?

Bourdieu’s Habitus, Reflexivity, and Capital

Bourdieu’s Science of Science and Reflexivity (2004) is about scientists and their participation in the field. Bourdieu explains that the scientist interacts with the field and tries to generate knowledge. However, how can we prevent bias (scientist misrepresents or is wrong) and closure (i.e. only this was/is right and your way was/is wrong or invalid)? Indeed, these interactions are what Bourdieu calls habitus. Habitus is essentially the scientist as a culmination of his or her socialization, environment, and most importantly, education—scientist as a culmination of knowledge, even though limited—and the ongoing interactions from said scientist. The published research by these scientists creates scientific capital. Each scientist owns his or her capital. Scientists exchange this capital from day to day. Knowledge is then generalized.

I employ a gestalt shift so that political languages are treated as unique external actors. They represent positions of unique scientific capital, whereas competitors recognize the position-takings, or capital, to be used against them from the other actors. This provides the possibility for numerous political languages, but it also may suffer from closure and bias.

Bourdieu described scientific capital as “a set of properties which are the product of acts of knowledge…performed by agents…make the pertinent distinctions…. that is constitutive of the nomos of the field” (italics in original, 55). Scientific capital is “the product of recognition by competitors” (Ibid). For example, political scientists add scientific capital to the field of political science through publication.

Scientific capital is based on knowledge and recognition (34). The distribution of capital represents the structure of the field, or the relations of force among scientific agents—the wealthy still want to get wealthier, which may be at the expense of holding down or hiding new scientific capital in order to hold the status quo. To be sure, I am likely unaware of the reality of why and how thousands of political scientists’ have recently exchanged capital, and I am unaware of their bias too. I may only be capable of understanding a few external actors’ capital. However, the inherent contestation advocated by Bourdieu should be useful in limiting closure and bias in the field.

The field is a “field of struggles, a socially constructed field of action in which agents endowed with different resources confront one another to conserve or transform the existing power relations” (35). For me, political languages are products of recognition by competing languages, based on recognition of indicators which make-up the scientific capital of the political languages. Whereas Bourdieu is expounding how scientists restrict science to a status quo, I argue that political languages have their own rules and regulations—unique status quos. I assume that these unique political languages enjoy their own habits; thus, they expunge the other languages from their core, as well as set up barriers for change.

Form Bourdieu’s perspective, everyone is exchanging different types of capital, so to speak, because each scientist’s socialization, environment, and education are unique. The inherent uniqueness of every scientist showcases itself in what can only be called bias. Indeed, our knowledge is littered with bias because our habitus cannot hold complete and perfect information / knowledge, and so scientific contributions are biased knowledge. Some owners of scientific capital are too wealthy, while others are too poor; considering their actual contributions.

This biased knowledge fights for positional dominance and creates arguments as capital for what constitutes as science. In short, the object is to win more capital; or, to occupy more political space than before. Scientists only accept scientific capital to which the scientists’ bias accepts the new science as legitimate. This causes a degree of closure—winners are picked for publication and losers are kept from the field.

Bourdieu’s general answer to this conundrum is reflexivity. Scientists should employ reflexivity to purge the habitus—the habits surrounding the rules and regulations of the scientist, which should allow scientists to acquire knowledge with less and less bias—and thereby more scientific collaboration of scientific capital will result in the field. There are new owners of great scientific capital, as wealth. And it is the habitus—the account for interactions—within and between structures which should generate practical scientific inquiry.

According to Bourdieu (2004), habitus is “a realized, embodied theory” (40). Habitus is best concrete, specific to place, time, and person. Ideally, a long record will reveal ingrained patterns—or habits. Habitus may help the scientist to describe social space or the object of study in social (or political) space. Reflexivity may be used to shed light on the traits of the concept—including prejudices and power relations.

Habitus may be stable, but not completely stable through time and space, because habitus is not deterministic (Bourdieu 2004, 44). From my perspective, the habitus of republicanism, as a political language, creates a political culture and ideology in a unique way, which may be scientifically noted through political time and political space as an evolving language. What is the degree to which republicanism impacts a polity? What is the political essence which structures your polity?

Bourdieu’s habitus is “useful when one is seeking to understand the logic of a field such as the scientific field, in which the scholastic illusion operates with a particular force” (37). Thus, a powerful use for the habitus as political language inquiry would be to show exactly how the political language has evolved in the implementation process of public policy (e.g., in creating the American constitution, or the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009).

Reflexivity as a tool enables the scientist to acquire the most correct disposition of habitus within his or her specialty. Bourdieu made it clear, one’s social (i.e. class, education) past may be particularly burdensome, because one’s “origins underlay the constitution of a cleft habitus, generating all kinds of contradictions and tensions” (109-111). Following this, social scientists should use as much of the established literature regarding the object under study in order to tease out the bias of what the object advocates, holds constant and admonishes. This suggests that every habitus is more clarified through additional scientific inquiry, since reflection will focus on the actual habitus—the habits of rules and regulations that govern the object.

Reflexivity, as incorporated into the habitus, is the method to see clearly and objectivity into the field. One must always be careful, Bourdieu wrote, about a “narcissistic” habitus—a “complacent looking-back by the researcher on his own experience” (89). Bourdieu wrote that “one’s social past is particularly burdensome when it comes to doing social science” (113). The objectivation of the subject, the position of subject in social space, his or her position and trajectory (because of professional and social past), and membership to social-religious groups may cause distortion within the scientist and, thus, the scientific study (Bourdieu, 94).

Under my gestalt shift, reflexivity is used to determine when a political language habitus is narcissistic, changing trajectory, or evolving.

Further distortions regarding the objectivation of the scientific position in the scientists’ field occurs via differentiated traditions and particularities, habits of thought, rituals, and censorship. The conditions for scientific truth rely, according to Bourdieu, upon seeing the world objectively. Fundamentally, the point of using the habitus is that it accounts for a utilized space which accounts for change. This shall help us account for [American] political development.

Considering habitus, scientists should expect political languages to pragmatically evolve—or to create new paths for governance considering their habits of rules and regulations against reality. Bourdieu explains, “…the scientific habitus is a realized, embodied theory….[it is] perhaps the supreme form of theoretical intelligence…a ‘theoretical consciousness realized’ [Hegel]…[habitus is] incorporated in the practical state…In other words, a twenty-year old mathematician can have twenty centuries of mathematics in his mind because formalization makes it possible to acquire accumulated products of non-automatic inventions, in the form of logical automatisms that have become practical automatisms” (40). Scientists researching republicanism can have twenty-five centuries of republicanism in his mind and pragmatically explain republican solutions for governance as the science of republicanism.

Bourdieu focused on reflexivity in the field—“a field of forces”—and competition of positions in the field for power, which are all impacted directly and practically from habitus (2004, 33). Reflexivity is a powerful tool at the scientist’s disposal to discover the habitus, a habitus that manifests itself from its structure. Bourdieu explains that “the habitus can be understood both as a general principle of theory of action—in opposition to the principles invoked by an intentionalist theory—and as a specific principle, differentiated and differentiating, of the actions of a particular category of agents, linked to particular conditions of training” (42).

To Bourdieu, reflexivity’s focus is on the inquiring mind, the observer, the investigator. A discipline is a possession of collective capital of specialized methods and concepts (65). Reflexivity is like “a permanent mirror effect: every word that can be uttered about scientific practice can be turned back on the person that utters it” (italics added, 4). Reflexivity can thus help us understand exactly what is uttered by political languages.

Reflexivity is a tool for scientists to eternally consider weaknesses in their knowledge, methods, and findings regarding the object under investigation (e.g., political languages). Bourdieu wrote that reflexivity could create “a kind of epistemological prudence” (91). In this manner, the tool of reflexivity can “make it possible to anticipate the probable chances of error” (91). This might expose the “tendencies and temptations inherent in a system of dispositions” (91). As I shall attempt to later show, reflexivity’s strength will be to illuminate parts of political languages that are still hidden today, considering that political languages are external structures creating their own habitus.

Bourdieu’s approach to scientific inquiry is deployed to counteract excessively relativistic claims of social constructivism through reflexivity, the habitus, and scientific capital. We can discover the empirical evidence of political language habits, and provide analysis of habitual evidence in society and the polity. I thus advance one way to utilize Bourdieu’s description of the field of science as a stable state of uncovering (i.e., not normal science and revolutions).

Initiating this method is a call to explore (1) the concept of the “autonomous” field, which shall account for the present structures and their structuring, their positions and position-takings (i.e. normative interactions of political languages); and (2) how observable political interactions occur in line with the structures and structuring of political languages (empirical interactions).

Let us endeavor to understand a way to discover American political development as capital to be transferred within a political community?

TBD by you, the scientific community!


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